Sunday, April 30, 2006

April anniversaries

Anzac Day passed a few days ago with the usual pathetic valourisations of the disastrous attempt of the Brits and their Antipodean lackeys to conquer Turkey back in 1915. Over on his Huffington Post blog, Joseph A Palermo marks the forty-fifth anniversary of another invasion that never got past the beach head stage - the landing of US-backed Cuban exiles and mercenaries at the Bay of Pigs.

Where Churchill's quixotic attempt to bring British civilisation to the Dardenelles dragged on for months, costing the Turkish people hundreds of thousands of lives, the 1961 invasion of Cuba lasted only three days. Many people believe that the invasion was a fiasco from the start, and barely tested the resolve of the Cuban armed forces. In fact, the invaders were only stopped after some desperate fighting that saw several hundred Cuban soldiers and volunteers sacrifice their lives to defend their revolution from the US. Cuba's air force, which consisted of half a dozen outdated planes, also played a vital role, managing to knock out several of the ships and planes the invaders had brought with them, including the B 26 bomber pictured at the top of this post.

Palermo relates the Bay of Pigs to the invasion of Iraq and the attacks the US is preparing against Iran, noting that the Cuban people's distinct lack of enthusiasm for their 'liberators' in 1961 has parrallels with the failure of the Iraqis to shower the invading Americans with rose petals and rice three years ago. In both cases, the CIA and its paymasters completely failed to read the mood of a people who had already suffered from the excesses of US imperialism for decades. Palermo concludes that:

We should dismiss out of hand the mouthpieces of the Bush Administration in the government and media when they claim that the Iranian people look to the United States as a hope for their "liberation
." The possible consequences if we allow the warmongers in the Bush regime to launch another misguided war in the Middle East are too horrific to let it take place under whatever crafty scenario they cook up.

While we're talking about defeats for US imperialism, it's worth mentioning that April the 11th marked the fourth anniversary of the CIA coup against the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The coup installed the head of the country's Chamber of Commerce as dictator; he lasted two days before being ousted by pro-Chavez soldiers and mass protests. Maybe the Kiwi left could start annoying the apologists for Gallipoli by using Anzac Day to celebrate the Bay of Pigs and the defeat of the Venezuelan coup? There's already a curious Antipodean connection to the Bay of Pigs: the closest village to the place is called Central Australia.

Friday, April 28, 2006

In Defence of the Matrix

The other day I visited the home of an old mate who appears to have landed in the lap of luxury. Not only does he own half a dozen expensive-looking computers, he also possesses a home movie system - you know, that expensive little projector-thingy that makes your wall, or the white sheet you've draped over your wall, into a movie screen. To top it all off, he has somehow managed to get his hands on a copy of the deluxe, thirteen - I repeat, thirteen - volume edition of The Matrix Trilogy.

We soon got down to ploughing through the Wachowski brothers' opus, and my attention focused on a disc devoted to philosophers' interpretations of the Matrix movies. The Wachowskis manage to coax a bewildering variety of philosophers out of the woodwork to comment on their films: there is Cornel West, who served as advisor to the Matrix and had a cameo in the second movie, and who looks more like Sun Ra than your average professor; the hardline neo-positivist Daniel 'we are our genes' Dennett; an aged John Searle; and Hubert Dreyfus, who pioneered the teaching of Heidegger in America.

But this disparate bunch produced quite similar interpretations of The Matrix films: egghead after egghead told us, reasonably enough, that the film was about the way that human beings can be imprisoned by a false picture of reality. I suppose a rough distinction could be made between those philosophers who thought that the Matrix was a metaphor for a natural, permanent obfuscation of reality, and those who thought that it symbolised man-made barriers to the apprehension of truth. An example of the former might be Kant's doctrine of the 'thing in itself' which we can never grasp with our obfuscatory senses; an example of the latter might be an authoritarian state which brainwashes its citizens, or Marx's account of the commodity fetishism that makes us unable to see the inequalities of capitalist society.

What united the philosophers, though, was the very favourable view they took of the efforts of the heroes of The Matrix films to defeat their robot adversaries and destroy the Matrix. It's true that the Wachowski brothers want us to like Neo, Morpheus and the rest of them, but I thought that at least one or two of the philosophers might have dared to be a little perverse and give their solidarity to the robots, rather than to the beleagured inhabitants of Zion City. Another of the bonus discs in the box set is called Animatrix, and consists of a series of short animated films which flesh out some of the gaps the Wachowskis leave in their films. Several of these short films are mockumentaries telling the story of the rise of robot power and the defeats suffered by humans.

Quite frankly, after watching these little future-histories, I think that we deserved (or deserve) everything the robots gave us! In the narrative the short films construct, highly intelligent robots that look alarmingly like humans are developed as labour-saving devices, and eventually end up doing almost all the work for humans. We sit around drinking margaritas while the robots put in a shift at the office and then come home to cook dinner and take out the trash.

Understandably, the robot-slaves get fed up with their lot and, together with 'human liberals' (the phrase is used rather pejoratively) they demonstrate for equal rights. The response of the vast majority of non-liberal humans is swift and brutal. Soon the class struggle between robots and humans has become an international conflict, with the fleshless ones establishing a sort of benign caliphate in the Arabian desert, which they call Zero One. Zero One tries to establish amicable relations with the rest of the world, but the humans aren't having any of it - we arrest the new country's reps when they come to address the United Nations. Bad move.

We humans are daft enough to use nuclear weapons against the robots, when they aren't susceptible to radiation like us. When they go onto the offensive we have the even dafter idea of destroying the atmosphere (don't tell Bush and Cheney about that one) and predictably end up underground, while robots stride the earth. Robots had relied on the sun for energy, and the destruction of the atmosphere deprives them of this resource (how this works I'm not exactly sure), but they soon find an alternative energy source - the human brain. Thus they construct the Matrix, to keep us entertained while they generate enough energy from our grey matter to maintain their own civilisation.

A couple of points, then: weren't the robots fully entitled to rise up and demand rights from humans? And, having been forced to fight a victorious war against the humans, don't the robots wind up treating us a lot more humanely than we treated them? They don't fill our days with the drudgery of work - rather, they recreate the world we destroyed for us and let us enjoy it. And supposing the Matrix didn't exist, how would the vast numbers of humans it houses be able to live, on the surface of a denuded and deadly world?

Quite frankly, I'm for the robots - and the Matrix. Does that make me a traitor?

You can read some detailed philosophical ruminations by Dreyfus et al on The Matrix films here.

Update: I've been told that the first essay on the site I link to - a site which is maintained by Warner Brothers, the distributor of The Matrix, and which seems to feature the philosophers on the bonus disc - is written from a pro-robot perspective. What can I say? With thirteen volumes we had to do a little skipping...

Solomons in Spanish

Here's a Spanish translation of the post I made on the Solomons earlier in the week -it's being distributed in Argentina by the Democracia Obrera group. It might seem a bit self-indulgent to post something in Spanish on an English-language blog, but since I started researching Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution last year I've realised how big the Spanish-language internet and blogosphere are, and how many native Spanish speakers read English-language blogs. I'm such an English language chauvinist that I'd unconsciously believed that everyone on the net was as monolingual as me...

Las Islas Salomón: se trata del imperialismo

La mayor parte de la cobertura de los medios en los acontecimientos recientes en las Islas Salomón ha puesto el foco en los detalles sensacionalistas de los tumultos y desórdenes: edificios en llamas, policías apaleados y saqueos de negocios han desfilado por nuestras pantallas. Las explicaciones del por qué de las revueltas en Honiara han sido difíciles de hallar. Algunos comentaristas como Russell Brown han echado mano a estereotipos racistas de gente “comunalista” incontrolable; otros como Audrey Young del Herald se han aventurado la opinión un poco más sofisticada de que los tumultos fueron causados por resentimientos hacia la interferencia china y taiwanesa en la política de las Salomón.

Lo que ha estado ausente en los medios de más tirada ha sido la más mínima mención del rol que los EE.UU., Gran Bretaña y sus gendarmes del Pacífico Sur -Australia y Nueva Zelanda- han jugado en la creación y mantenimiento de los múltiples problemas que aquejan a la sociedad de las Islas Salomón. La RAMSI (Misión de Asistencia Regional a las Islas Salomón) ha debido enfrentar variadas críticas por su manejo de las revueltas, pero nadie ha sugerido que la misión y las potencias regionales que la respaldan son parte de los problemas de las Salomón, no su solución.

Cuando las tropas, en su mayoría de Australia y Nueva Zelanda, ocuparon las Salomón bajo la bandera de la RAMSI en 2003, el país estaba sumergido en una crisis que había sido fabricada en las oficinas del Fondo Monetario Internacional. Bajó la presión de los gobierno de Australia y Nueva Zelanda, el gobierno de las Salomón había implementado las “reformas” del Fondo que devastaron su economía y desestabilizaron profundamente su sociedad.

Luego de obtener su independencia de manos de Gran Bretaña en 1977, las Salomón se encontraron con una infraestructura primitiva y una economía diseñada por el egoísmo de un colonialismo que prefirió el saqueo al desarrollo económico sustentable. Siempre dependiendo fuertemente de los precios que podía obtener por la exportación de sus material primas, en particular madera y oro, la economía de las Salomón recibió un gran golpe cuando la “gripe asiática” (se refiere a la crisis que golpeó con fuerza a sudeste asiático en ese año) de 1997 llevó a una caída en la demanda de sus principales mercados. Sólo en 1998, el PBI del país cayó en un 10%.

Presionado por Gran Bretaña, Australia y los EE.UU., el gobierno de Bartholomew Ulufa’alu respondió implementando un programa de drásticas “reformas” económicas diseñado por el FMI. La moneda del país fue devaluada un 20% y cientos de empleados públicos fueron despedidos. A continuación brotaron conflictos entre los diferentes grupos étnicos del país, y a principios del 2000 un golpe de estado puso a Ulufa’alu bajo “custodia para su protección”. La violencia que no cesaba dejó a la economía de las Salomón en ruinas.

En cambio de admitir el rol que las políticas del FMI habían jugado en el colapso de las Salomón, el gobierno de Howard en Canberra usó el caos presente en su vecino para exigir “reformas” aún más brutales como precio para enviar ayuda humanitaria. En noviembre del 2002 el gobierno de sir Allan Kemakeza comenzó a aplicar un nuevo programa de recortes de gastos y de empleos, echando a un tercio de los empleados públicos. Aún peor, Kemakeza fue obligado a ceder el control del Ministerio de Finanzas de su gobierno a Lloyd Powell, presidente de una compañía multinacional con base en Nueva Zelanda llamada Solomon Leonard. En una conferencia realizada en Honiara en junio de 2002, el Fondo había exigido el nombramiento de Powell como Secretario Permanente de Finanzas como precio para cualquier nueva ayuda financiera a las Salomón.

La segunda ronda de reformas del FMI tuvo consecuencias predecibles. Incluso los servicios más elementales de salud y educación colapsaron en las villas miseria de Honiara y en las provincias, los cortes de luz se volvieron frecuentes incluso en la capital; la ley y el orden colapsaron al dejarse de pagar a la policía y a los jueces; y la competencia por los escasos fondose gubernamentales renovaron los conflictos entre los grupos étnicos.

A mediados de 2003 ya quedaba claro que las reformas a la economía de las Salomón en manos del imperialismo sólo podían establecerse a punta de pistola. El gobierno de Howard se había transformado en el aliado más leal de los EE.UU., en la región del Asia-Pacífico, habiendo participado recientemente en la invasión de Irak. Al proclamar a las Salomón un “estado inviable” que al igual que Irak se podía volver una base para los terroristas y causar estabilidad regional, Australia organizó una fuerza de 2.500 tropas para ocupar el país.

La verdadera razón para la invasión tenía dos aspectos. En primer lugar, Australia y Nueva Zelanda temían que el caos en las Salomón pudiera dañar sus propias economías, arruinando a las numerosas compañías australianas que tienen negocios en las islas. En segundo lugar, los amos del gobierno de Howard en Washingtn estaban cada vez más alarmados por la posibilidad de que el gobierno de las Salomón pudiera acudir ya sea a China o a Francia por ayuda monetaria y para ayudarlo a restaurar la seguridad interior. Con colonias en Nueva Caledonia y en la Polinesia Francesa, Francia todavía mantiene una fuerte presencia en el Pacífico, y a principios de 2003 había ofrecido ayuda militar al gobierno de las Salomón. Ni los EE.UU., ni Australia querían saber nada con ninguna expansión de la influencia francesa en una región que consideran su propio “patio trasero” Luego de que se anunció la formación de la RAMSI en julio de 2003, los franceses ofrecieron tropas para la fuerza, pero su oferta fue bruscamente rechazada por el Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Australia, Alexander Downer.

Con su economía floreciente, China está buscando enérgicamente expandir su influencia en el pacífico. La tendencia del país a construir lazos comerciales y diplomáticos se ha vuelto particularmente urgente a partir de que el gobierno de Taiwan comenzó a utilizar la “diplomacia de las chequeras” para comprar los votos de pequeños países en las Naciones Unidas y otros organismos similares para que reconozcan al gobierno de Taipei y no al de Beijing. Con su visión de China como una superpotencia rival emergente y enemigo potencial a mediano plazo en el plano militar, el gobierno de Bush estaba preocupado por la posibilidad de un aumento en la presencia de China en las Salomón.

El gobierno de Nueva Zelanda tenía razones extra propias para involucrarse en la ocupación de las Salomón. Luego de distanciarse de Australia y de los EE.UU., por alinearse con Francia y China en el tema de la invasión de Irak, el gobierno de Helen Clark estaba desesperado por calmar el enojo de Canberra y Washington probando que podía ser un “jugador en la cancha” en el Pacífico Sur. Además de volverse a amigar con sus viejos aliados, el gobierno laborista (de Nueva Zelanda, NdT) creyó poder moderar las tendencias unilateralistas de Australia y los EE.UU.

Clark y sus Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores, Phil Goff, anunciaron con bombos y platillos la conformación “multinacional” de la RAMSI y el consentimiento del gobierno de Kemakeza a la intervención de la RAMSI como triunfos del multinacionalismo en contraste con el “método utilizado en Irak”. En realidad, la fuerza de la RAMSI estaba dominada por australia, y el gobierno de Kemakeza había sido ya desprovisto de prácticamente toda su capacidad para tomar decisiones independientes. El gobierno australiano tomó el voto del parlamento de las Salomón como un hecho consumado: ya había despachado unas 2000 tropas a Honiara antes de que la votación hubiera sido siquiera efectuada.

En los dos años y tres trimestres que las fuerzas de la RAMSI han venido ocupando las Salomón, han dejado muy en claro que actúan por cuenta de los grandes estados del Pacífico y del capital internacional, no a favor de la gente de las Salomón. Igual que el ejército de ocupación en Irak, los soldados de la RAMSI están exentos de ser llevados a juicio –o incluso investigación- bajo las leyes de las Salomón. Tienen autoridad sobre la apropia policía de las islas. Poco después de haber tocado tierra en las Salomón, las tropas de la RAMSI habían comenzado a efectuar arrestos en masa; para el aniversario de la ocupación ya había detenido a 700 personas, la mayoría de las cuales no habían sido objeto de ningún juicio.

En agosto de 2004, unos 80 prisioneros de la RAMSI comenzaron una rebelión en la Prisión Rove en Honiara. Luego de abrirse paso fuera de sus celdas y reducir a los guardias, los prisioneros gritaron consignas de condena al trato inhumano que recibían. La mayoría de ellos había estado en confinamiento solitario durante un año. A pesar de la protesta, cientos de detenidos están todavía bajo arresto sin juicio en las Salomón. La RAMSI también se ha tomado la libertad de intimidar a la población de las Salomón y de pasar por encima del gobierno del país cada vez que ha creído que los intereses del capital internaiconal podrían haber estado amenazados.

En marzo de 2004, por ejemplo, los trabajadores públicos que aún restaban en las Salomón, votaron salir a una huelga nacional en demanda de un aumento de salarios. En un esfuerzo por evitar la huelga, el gobierno de las Salomón anunció un miserable aumento del 2,5%. La respuesta de la RAMSI fue rápida: el presidente del Sindicato de Empleados Públicos de las Salomón fue llamado por el estado mayor de la RAMSI a la embajada de Australia, donde se le advirtió que estaba “desestabilizando” el país. Poco después, un representante de la RAMSI le entregó al mismo líder sindical un escrito advirtiéndole que si no dejaba sin efecto el reclamo de aumentos la ayuda australiana a las Salomón sería suspendida. El sindicato capituló.

Las revueltas que han destruido grandes sectores de Honiara la semana pasada solo pueden ser comprendidas a la luz de la historia de la explotación imperialista de las Salomón. El subdesarrollo dejado por el colonialismo Británico ha sido exacerbado por las brutales políticas del FMI de las cuales Australia y Nueva Zelanda se han mostrado ellas mismas preparadas para implementar a punta de pistola.
Los revoltosos han acusado a los hombres de negocios y diplomáticos chinos y taiwaneses de interferir con el proceso electoral coimeando a los principales políticos, y condenaron al nuevo Primer Ministro Snyder Rini como corrupto. Pero es el imperialismo y la ocupación de la RAMSI de las Salomón lo que ha creado el medio propicio para esa corrupción. El comportamiento arbitrario, arrogante e interesado de la RAMSI ha creado la atmósfera en la cual puede florecer la corrupción. Las políticas del FMI y la ocupación de la RAMSI han debilitado muchísimo las instituciones del estado de las Salomón y acobardado a los sindicatos, que podrían haber estado vigilantes ante los avances de la corrupción. Los negociantes chinos y taiwaneses y sus diplomáticos de chequera han ocupado el vacío económico creado por el fracaso de las políticas del FMI y las empresas australianas y de la región en crear prosperidad.

Los gobiernos de Australia y Nueva Zelanda han respondido a las revueltas en Honiara enviando más tropas para fortalecer a la RAMSI. Alexander Downer expresó el desprecio del gobierno de Howard y de la RAMSI por la soberanía de las Salomón cuando dijo la semana pasada: “La situación allí es intrínsecamente inestable y nuestra fuerza de policía deberá permanecer allí por largo tiempo en el futuro y deberemos estar preparados a enviar de tiempo en tiempo refuerzos militares si es necesario, como lo hemos hecho en este momento”.

Debemos hacer campañas por el retiro de las fuerzas australianas y neocelandesas de las Islas Salomón, de la misma forma que estamos exigiendo su retiro inmediato de Irak y Afganistán.

A kinder, gentler imperialism?

The piece I reproduced here on the peculiarities of the pro-war 'left' has washed up on some remote shores of the blogosphere - thanks to Septic Isle, Louis Proyect, and Adventures in Histomat for plugs. Adventures in Histomat has its own post up (click the hyperlink I just gave), which in a sense perhaps 'fills in' some of the gaps left by my account of pro-war 'leftism', by zeroing in on the imperialism of the Fabian 'socialists' one hundred years ago, and showing that this imperialism was a precursor to the antics of broken-down ex-lefties of today like Norm Geras and Christoper Hitchens. Check it out.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Bolivarian Bach?

The latest issue of Britain's Morning Star newspaper carries a report on attempts by the government of Hugo Chavez to bring the music of Bach and other classical composers to the barrios of Caracas and Venezuela's other cities. The country's Minister of Culture, Manuel de Abreu, has pushed a law through the National Assembly 'guaranteeing every child the right to a musical education'. The music education programme de Abreu has organised focuses on organising youth orchestras in the slums. The Star's John Green saw one of the performances for himself:

To watch one of the youth orchestras playing is a visual experience in itself. There is none of the evening dress seriousness or awesome reverence. Their faces reveal their rich ethnic and gender mix. They dress in brightly colored shirts in the colors of the Venezuelan flag; and in strongly rhythmic pieces they sway with their bodies like dancers and in the end, jubilantly throw their instruments in the air, reminiscent of Grand Prix winners tossing champagne bottles about. Children as young as two or three are given the chance of playing on an instrument.

The music education programme is one aspect of a sustained attempt by some of the movers and shakers of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution to 'democratise' high culture, by bringing music, literature, and art to a much wider audience. Last year the Venezuelan government launched 'Operation Dulcinea', an attempt to make classic novels available to more people. To mark the 400th anniversary of the of Don Quixote, Hugo Chavez's government distributed a staggering one million free copies of the dauntingly long novel. (WH Auden once quipped that no one had ever read Don Quixote from cover to cover: I wonder if a someone in Caracas has proven him wrong yet?)

The Bolivarian's revolution's interest in culture has not necessarily enamoured it to the country's traditional class of intellectuals. Some of them have become supporters of the revolution, but others are fiercely antagonistic, like Teodoro Petkoff, the writer and publisher who has announced that he will run against Chavez in this year's Presidential election. Petkoff, a former socialist who moved to the right and became Minister of Privatisation in the 90s administration of Rafael Caldera, represents a layer of intellectuals who see the Bolivarian revolution as the recrudescence of an economically illiterate and anti-intellectual Latin American populist tradition.

It is difficult not to detect a whiff of self-interest in the arguments of Petkoff and his co-thinkers. Last year Venezuela's universities saw a number of demonstrations against Chavez's government, and in particular its attempts to increase access to tertiary education. A new Higher Education Law has sought to diminish the autonomy of the country's elite universities, and open them to more working class students. The law was popular with many students - five thousand of them rallied to celebrate its passage - but unpopular with some academics, who saw it as an exercise in 'dumbing down' and an attack on academic freedom. Bolivarian students' organisations have characterised Venezuela's elite universities as a 'bastion of the ultra-right'.

A good example of the almost hysterical opposition that the Bolivarian revolution has bred amongst some intellectuals can be found on the venepoetics blog, which mixes lucid and interesting discussions of literature with denunciations of Chavez's 'tropical fascism', words of praise for George Bush's regime, and calls for the 're-establishment of democracy', presumably via a military coup or American invasion. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see literary intelligence and political stupidity existing side by side - we have plenty of historical examples, courtesy of the likes of Ezra Pound, TS Eliot, WB Yeats and, dare I say it, our own CK Stead. I'm on the side of the kids playing Bach in the barrios.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rescuing the typewriter

Like the Model T Ford and the phonograph, the typewriter used to be a symbol of mass production, and of the supposed obliteration of individuality by mass production. A hundred years ago many intellectuals decried the device, seeing it as the vulgar usurper of the quill and the fountain pen. The office hall full of typists and the staccato, machine gun chatter of the typewriter became a symbol of the machine age in dystopias like Orwell's 1984. Writers with a different attitude to modernity, like the Italian Futurist Marinetti, celebrated the typewriter as the authentic literary instrument of a new era of liberation, and experimented with the typographical possibilities it opened up.

In the space of the last twenty years, though, the typewriter has been purged from offices around the world; that irritating chatter has been replaced by the soft efficient hum of computers. Today the typewriter is on its way to becoming a collectors' item, an industrial antique, as unusual and notable as a Model T on State Highway One or a phonograph in a living room.

Will-Joy Christie is a writer who is fascinated by the typewriter's transition from symbol of the machine age to quaint relic: all of her poems are typed on the sort of ageing, cantankerous machines that used to plague secretaries and newspapermen. Christie's writing is disjunctive, sometimes radically so - sentences, lines and sometimes even words are broken up and reassembled, according to a logic that is not always readily apparent. Fragments drift on the page, asking the reader to relate them. Christie uses the typewriter to augment this disjunctiveness: when she ends a sentence in mid-flow or breaks a word in half one has the impression of the machine sputtering and momentarily dying; when she deliberately mispells a word, or writes outright nonsense, it is easy to imagine the typewriter's keys jumping about bad-temperedly, refusing to obey the commands of the writer's fingers.

Christie also revels in the peculiar textural effects that the keys of a clapped-out typewriter can provide, the way that certain letters and sometimes whole words are made darker or lighter than the rest of the text, or emerge on paper slightly blurred. It is as though the machine she uses has been trying to make certain emphases, or hide certan formulations from us.

All of this is charming, but it would matter for little if Will-Joy Christie did not have something to say. For all their fragmentation and typograhical hi-jinks, her poems have a solid emotional core; even where their meaning remains somewhat obscure, they transmit a powerful emotional charge. Christie balances formal fragmentation with an obsessive imagery. She is the mother of a young child and a housewife, and almost all of her poems are filled with pictures of what was once rather patronisingly called 'domestic life'. These are poems about love, a state which, Christie shows us, is as full of work, ennui and frustration as exaltation. The radical look Christie's poems have on the page is due not to some self-conscious desire to be 'experimental', but to the need to find the right way to express what is a powerful and unusual vision.

To bring all these points into focus I want to look at 'Fai(th/al) lure', the first poem in Christie's new chapbook Re:[play]er and a piece I was delighted to be able to include in brief #33 :

[My apologies if the print of the text that follows is a little small; treat it as a test for your eyes...]

It will do no good to try to 'explicate' this poem by writing a footnote to every one of its lines, or showing how they all constitute some sort of narrative or argumentative thread culminating in some sort of resolution. What we ought to do here is try - and I'm sorry if what I'm about to say sounds impossibly gauche and New Age - to feel the poem, to receive the emotional charge it offers. We might like to bear in mind Wallace Stevens' maxim that great poetry communicates before it is understood. What does Will-Joy Christie communicate, even before we understand her?

To me, the poem is full of frustration at the speaker's inability to communicate with her partner, and anxiety about the consequences of this failure to communicate. The speaker is scared that her partner will 'reduce me to how you read me', and laments the fact that there is 'no communication, only/ritual transmission of effect' between them. When there is a genuine emotional transaction between the speaker and her partner, it seems to take place non-intellectually, as 'your tears get me wet'. Grief is expressed through sex, but its reasons remain obscure, or at least unsayable. The poem's fragmented lines and its lumbering, smudged typography powerfully reinforce the sense of an inability to communicate clearly.

The speaker's fears for her relationship are expressed beautifully in the image of a cigarette which 'begins when I lit it': like the cigarette, the lovers 'burn down towards our bad ends'. By shifting tenses in 'begins when I lit it', the speaker intensifies the sense of finitude, of inevitable doom, that the metaphor of the burning cigarette already holds. (Christie is not the first poet to use the cigarette as a metaphor for love: in one of the famously spare poems he wrote after World War Two, the Pole Zbigniew Herbert described being in love as 'like smoking one hundred cigarettes'.)

Will-Joy Christie is a poet of both ingenuity and vision. I was lucky enough to find a copy of Re:[play]er in my letterbox. I've seen copies of her other chapbook in Cherry Bomb Comics. Catch them if you can.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What happened to Windies cricket?

The latest issue of The Spark, the paper of the Workers party of New Zealand (formerly the Anti-Capitalist Alliance), includes an article by sports journo Fazeer Mohamed on the decline of the West Indies as a cricketing power, and some of the social and econmic factors behind this decline. I share Fazeer's evident sadness about the slide of the Windies from world champs to easybeats.

Apart from the innate aesthetic superiority of cricket over rugby, one of the reasons I support the Black Caps but not the All Blacks is the tendency of the latter team to win far too often. In New Zealanders at least, world domination breeds an arrogance which becomes unconscious, and thus thoroughly unlikeable to those who are made conscious of it. The Black Caps are never in danger of achieving world domination, and their supporters seem less inclined to lapse into the sort of showboating that is par for the course for rugbyheads in this country.

Even when the Black Caps manage to win, their fans generally manage to refrain from gloating - there's sometimes even a certain empathy for the defeated team, as long as the defeated team isn't Australia or England. I detected a genuine sense of sadness amongst Black Caps supporters over the ease with which Stephen Fleming's men beat the once-great West Indies last summer, a sadness which became focused on the figure of Brian Lara, who arrived in New Zealand a superstar and departed with question marks over his playing future. Lara's persistent failures disappointed Kiwi cricket fans as much as the handful of West Indian supporters who came to watch him: often crowds seemed to be willing the grand old man to play at least one more great innings. The best he could manage was a quickfire half-century in the rain-ruined last test in Napier.

One of the reasons for the sadness the Windies team arouses nowadays is the memories so many of us have of the great Carribean teams of the 70s, 80s and early 90s. In the era of Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, the late Malcolm Marshall and the incomparable Viv 'Smokin' Joe' Richards the Windies put every team that faced them to the sword. It wasn't just their win to loss ratio that made them a great team, though: if stats were all that counted, the current Australian team would be revered rather than reviled by the cricket community outside of Oz. It was the way the Windies played that really wowed cricket fans around the world. What Brazil have long been to soccer, the Windies were to cricket - aggressive without being nasty, and committed to a fast-paced, risk-taking, extremely entertaining style of play.

The great Windies sides had some cool players, but none was as cool as Viv Richards: from the mid-seventies to the end of the eighties Viv engineered a revolution in batsmanship, playing every shot in the coaching manual and more, and scoring at a rate not seen since the halcyon days of Sir Don Bradman. With his refusal to wear new-fangled protective helmets, his rastafarian wristbands, his boxer's stare, and his belief that the Windies tours to the white cricketing countries were punishment for the hundreds of years of colonialism Africa and the Carribean had suffered, Viv was a larger than life figure, an idol of the magnitude of Bob Marley. Like Marley, he was as popular in New Zealand as the Carribean - the type of genius he had couldn't help crossing race barriers.

In 1986 I got a chance to see the 'Master Blaster' at a one-day game between the Windies and Auckland at Eden Park. The Windies had only just arrived in the country, and they looked tired as Auckland ran up a sizeable total. I remember Richards, who was never the most conscientious fieldsman, being absent from the paddock for long periods of Auckland's innings. The Windies started their reply slowly, and were soon in trouble. Richards didn't seem to want to bat - one junior batsman after another was sent in in his place. Finally, with his team five down and needing ten or eleven runs an over to win, the great man deigned to walk out of the tunnel under the Number One stand. The crowd held its breath. Had Viv left it too late? How could he pull off a win from here? Did he even care? What did a minor fixture against a provincial New Zealand team mean to a great player in the twilight of his career?

Over the next half hour, Viv smashed fifty-one not out off twenty-odd balls, while at the other end the Windies' stalwart wicketkeeper-batsman Jeff Dujon ran up a quick thirty. The climax came when Viv, who had been content with smashing straight fours from good length balls and late cutting seamers to the fence at the terraces, took things to another level by lifting a yorker from the hapless Martin Snedden onto the roof of the Park's Number One stand. The ball's probably still up there. The Windies won that game with overs to spare, and we walked back to our cars in awed silence.

Viv didn't let me down in 1986. Twenty years later Brian Lara, who is the only batsman who can have pretensions to Viv's mantle, did let New Zealanders down. The magic was gone, and we were poorer for its absence.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Solomons: it's about imperialism

Most of the media coverage of recent events in the Solomon Islands has focused on the sensational details of riot and disorder: burning buildings, beaten-up cops, and looted shops have all been paraded across our screens. Explanations of the reasons for the riots in Honiara have been hard to find. Some commentators like Russell Brown have resorted to racist stereotypes of an uncontrollable 'communalist' people; others like the Herald's Audrey Young have ventured the slightly more sophisticated opinion that the riots were caused by resentment of Chinese and Taiwanese interference in Solomons politics.

Missing from the mainstream media has been any sort of account of the role that the United States, Britain and their South Pacific deputy sheriffs Australia and New Zealand have played in creating and maintaining the manifold troubles of Solomon Islands society. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has faced various criticisms of its handling of the riots, but no one has suggested that the Mission and the regional powers that back it are part of the Solomons' problems, not their solution.

When mainly Australian and New Zealand troops occupied the Solomons under the banner of RAMSI in 2003 the country was in the grip of a crisis that had been manufactured in the offices of the International Monetary Fund. Under pressure from the Australian and New Zealand governments, the Solomons had implemented IMF 'reforms' that devastated its economy and profoundly destabilised its society. RAMSI's occupation has only exacerbated the crisis.

After gaining independence from Britain in 1977, the Solomons found itself with a primitive infrastructure and an economy fashioned by the selfishness of a colonialism that prefered plunder to sustainable economic development. Always heavily dependent on the prices it could get for exports of its raw materials, in particular timber and gold, the Solomons economy took a big hit when the 'Asian flu' of 1997 led to a drop in demand in its key export markets. In 1998 alone, the GDP of the country declined by 10%.

Pressured by Britain, Australia, and the US, the government of Bartholomew Ulufa'alu responded by implementing a programme of drastic economic 'reforms' drawn up by the International Monetary Fund. The country's currency was devalued by 20%, and hundreds of public employees were sacked. Conflict between the country's different ethnic groups followed, and at the beginning of 2000 a coup put Ulufa'alu into 'protective custody'. Continuing violence left the country's economy in ruins.

Instead of admitting the role that IMF policies had played in the collapse of the Solomons, the Howard government in Canberra used the chaos in its neighbour to demand even more brutal 'reforms' as the price of humanitarian aid. In November 2002 the government of Sir Allan Kemakeza began a new programme of spending and job cuts, sacking a third of public sector employees. Even worse, Kemakeza was forced to cede control of his government's Finance Ministry to Lloyd Powell, the Australian head of a New Zealand-based multinational company called Solomon Leonard. At a conference held in Honiara in June 2002, the IMF had demanded Powell's appointment as Permanent Secretary of Finance as the price of any new financial aid to the Solomons.

The second round of IMF reforms had predictable consequences. Even rudimentary health and education services collapsed in the slums of Honiara and in the provinces; power blackouts became frequent even in the capital; law and order broke down as police and judges went unpaid; and competition for scarce government funds renewed conflict between ethnic groups.

By the middle of 2003 it was clear that the reform of the Solomons economy by imperialism could only take place at gunpoint. The Howard government had become the US's most loyal ally in the Asia-Pacific region, having just participated in the invasion of Iraq. Proclaiming the Solomons a 'failed state' that like Iraq could become a base for terrorists and the cause of regional instability, Australia organised a force of 2,500 troops to occupy the country.

The real reason for the invasion was two-fold. In the first place, Australia and New Zealand feared that the chaos in the Solomons could damage their own economies, by ruining the many Australasian companies that do business in the islands. In the second place, the Howard government's masters in Washington had become alarmed by the prospect of the Solomons turning either to China or to France for aid money and help in restoring law and order. With colonies in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, France still maintains a strong presence in the Pacific, and early in 2003 it had offered military aid to the Solomons government. Neither the US nor Australia wanted to see an expansion of French influence in an region they considered their own backyard. After the formation of RAMSI was announced in July 2003 the French offered troops for the force, but were brusquely turned down by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

With its economy booming, China is seeking energetically to expand its influence in the Pacific. The country's drive to build trade and diplomatic ties has become particularly urgent since the government of Taiwan began using 'chequebook diplomacy' to bribe small countries with votes in the UN and similar international bodies to recognise the government in Taipei rather than its rival in Beijing. With its view of China as an emerging rival superpower and potential medium-term military foe, the Bush government was concerned by the possibility of increased Chinese involvement in the Solomons.

The government of New Zealand had extra reasons of its own for involving itself in the occupation of the Solomons. After tacking away from Australia and the US by siding with France and China over the invasion of Iraq, the Clark government was desperate to assuage anger in Canberra and Washington by proving that it could still 'play ball' in the Pacific. In addition to making up with its old allies, the Labour government believed that it could moderate the unilateralist tendencies of Australia and the US. Clark and her Foreign Minister Phil Goff trumpeted the multinational make-up of RAMSI and the consent of the Kemakeza and Solomons parliament government to RAMSI's intervention as triumphs of multinationalism over the 'Iraq approach'. In reality, the RAMSI force was dominated by Australia, and the Kemakeza government had already been stripped of most of its ability to make independent decisions. The Australian government treated the vote of the Solomons' parliament as a fait accompli: it had dispatched some 2,000 troops to Honiara before the vote had even been taken.

In the two and three quarter years it has occupied the Solomons, the RAMSI force has made it abundantly clear that it acts on behalf of the Pacific's big states and international capital, not on behalf of the people of the Solomons. Like the army occupying Iraq, RAMSI's soldiers are exempted from prosecution or even investigation under Solomons law. They have authority over the Solomons' own police force. Soon after landing in the Solomons RAMSI had begun making sweeping arrests - by the anniversary of the occupation it had detained 700 people, most of whom had not faced any sort of trial. In August 2004 eighty of these detainees staged a rebellion at Rove Prison in Honiara. After breaking out of their cells and overpowering guards, the prisoners shouted slogans condemning their 'inhuman treatment'. Most had been held in solitary confinement for a year. Despite the protest, hundreds of people are still detained without trial in the Solomons.

RAMSI has also felt free to intimidate the population of the Solomons and over-rule the country's government whenever it has felt the interests of international capital have been threatened. In March 2004, for instance, the Solomons' remaining public sector workers voted to stage a national strike to demand a pay rise. In an effort to avert a strike, the Solomons government announced a meagre increase of 2.5%. RAMSI's response was swift: the head of the Solomon Islands Public Employees Union was summouned by RAMSI staff to the Australian embassy, where he was warned that he was 'destabilising' the country. Shortly afterwards a RAMSI representative handed the same union leader a written warning that if he did not revoke the pay claim Australian aid to the Solomons would be suspended. Eventually the union capitulated.

The riots that have destroyed large parts of Honiara in the past week can only be understood against the backdrop of the history of imperialism's exploitation of the Solomons. The underdevelopment left by British colonialism has been exacerbated by brutal IMF policies which Australia and New Zealand have shown themselves prepared to implement at the point of a gun.

The rioters have accused Taiwanese and Chinese businessmen and diplomats of interfering with the electoral process by bribing key politicians, and condemned the new Prime Minister Snyder Rini as corrupt. But it is imperialism and RAMSI's occupation of the Solomons which has created the environment for such corruption. The arbitrary, arrogant, and self-interested behaviour of RAMSI has created an atmosphere in which graft can flourish. IMF policies and RAMSI occupation have greatly weakened the institutions of the Solomons state and cowed the trade unions, which might have acted as watchdogs against corruption. The Chinese and Taiwanese dealmakers and chequebook diplomats have stepped into the economic vacuum created by the failure of IMF policies and Australasian businesses to deliver prosperity.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have responded to the riots in Honiara by sending more troops to prop up RAMSI. The left and labour movement should respond by demanding the withdrawal of all occupying troops from the country.

NB: a lot of the info in this post is cribbed from the (searchable) archives of the World Socialist Website, which has covered imperialism in the Pacific in great deal over the past few years. Check 'em out.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Leighton as touchstone

When the insuferrably smug Leighton 'I wasn't wrong, Saddam's hidden those WMDs in Belarus' Smith disses you during one of his weekday morning talkback sermons on 1ZB, you know you must be doing something right. The Service and Food Workers Union ought to take heart, then, from Leighton's rant this morning about its Clean Start campaign.

According to Leighton, cleaning isn't a 'real job', and 'nobody stays in it long', so cleaners don't deserve a pay rise. If that wasn't a crushing enough refutation of the SFWU's case, Leighton has produced an 'annonymous e mail from a man involved in the industry' which claims that many cleaners are habitual thieves. I wouldn't fancy making an accusation like that to the faces of the workers who were at yesterday's Auckland launch of the Clean Start campaign, but of course Leighton never makes his accusations to anybody's face. Over the years, Leighton has been wrong about every other issue - about WMDs, about a Brash vistory in 2005, about global warming, about statues of George Bush in liberated Baghdad - and he's wrong about this one, too.

For a less coruscating take on the cleaners' struggle, check out Simon Collins' article in today's Herald. LabourStart has a comprehensive list of other accounts and commentaries on the campaign at this page.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A quick report on the 'Clean Start' campaign launch

I've just been to the Methodist City Mission Hall, for the Auckland launch of the Clean Start - Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign, which is being waged in New Zealand by the Service and Food Workers Union and in Australia by the SFWU's sister union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union.

I was one of about one hundred and twenty people - union organisers, delegates, rank and file members, journalists, and the usual unctuous politicians - who listened to New Zealand Idol winner Rosita Vai give a rousing start to proceedings by filling the hall with her twenty-four track voice.

Vai's would be a hard voice for anyone to follow, and the nasal whine of SFWU National Secretary John Ryall never stood a chance. Vocal performance aside, Ryall did make some sound points about the necessity and justice of the cleaners' campaign, citing research which shows that cleaners in New Zealand work three times as much floor space in a shift as their Texan counterparts. Given that Texas is not a part of the world renowned for strong trade unions, Ryall's data spoke volumes about the situation of cleaners in New Zealand. Sue, an SFWU delegate from Auckland Airport, made the same point using personal experience rather than statistics, noting that she'd been working at the airport for seven years, for a 'really really really really mean' boss who had recently offered her a thirty-five cent pay increase. 'That's a box of matches', Sue observed. In her seven years at the airport, she had helped increase union membership from 35 to 140, as more and more workers saw the necessity of uniting to demand more than a box of matches.

The SFWU is demanding a minimum pay rate of $12 an hour for all cleaners, the establishment of a proper health and safety regime in the buildings cleaners service, and the end of the sub-contracting of cleaning services to fly-by-night outfits who make impossible demands on workers. It is not clear, though, how these aims are to be achieved. John Ryall spoke of 'waking the companies that own the buildings in Auckland as well as Australian cities' up to their 'social responsibilities', and getting them 'to sit down at the table with the union'. The task, it seemed, was the conversion of bosses from a profit-driven immorality to a community-minded generosity. MP Mark Gosche mounted the podium to make a similarly evangelical appeal to 'all those big businessmen who want to shake hands with Polynesian superstars like Rosita and Tana Umaga to also respect the parents of these people, the low-paid workers'. But big business and its advertising agents use celebrities like Umaga and Vai as cynically as they uses cleaners: both are exploited, it's simply that - until they retire or record an album that flops - the celebrities are more valuable commodities than the cleaners.

Gosche's fellow Labour MP Darien Fenton followed him to the podium, and delivered a breathtakingly banal speech. Fenton recalled her many years in leadership positions in the SFWU, and the effort and financial expense that went into the Labour election campaign that dragged her into parliament last year. 'I haven't forgotten you and where I came from, I always keep my desk clean, and I always talk to the parliament cleaners' Fenton announced proudly. Whether such shining examples of working class militancy represent an adequate return for the tens of thousands the union speant getting Fenton to parliament is open to question.

Green MP Keith Locke made a speech which managed the not-difficult task of upstaging both Gosche and Fenton. Locke noted that the Green Party demands an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour, and called on the SFWU to support Green MP Sue Bradford's bill to abolish youth rates. Neither Gosche nor Fenton had managed to mention either the minimum wage or youth rates, preferring to bask in the feeble glow of Labour's 1999 Employment Relations Act, and stoke up fears of National MP Wayne Mapp's doomed 90 Day Probation Bill. The failure of these two members of Labour's 'left' faction to so much as mention a progressive piece of legislation like Bradford's Bill should be a warning to all SFWU members. If it is to be successful, the Clean Start campaign will have to rely on rank and file action, not the ex-leaders the union has packed off to Wellington.

Monday, April 17, 2006

'Lists are fun' - Maps

so Maps had the idea we list our top ten favourite movies of all time, might spark some’s mine:

10) Cannibal! the musical - Trey Parker. ‘the first intelligent musical about cannibalism’. This one had to make the list somewhere, it stars Trey Parker of Southpark fame and is just such a quintessential satire on all things Hollywood.

9) Bed and Board – Truffaut. The lightest touch of any movie director I’ve seen, every scene seems to flick effortlessly into the next, whilst maintaining a flat-out pace, a genuine delight.

8) Blue Velvet – David Lynch. Pretty much my favourite director, I could have put at least four of his films in this list, but this one has to make it coz of madman Dennis Hopper’s performance and the great scene where the drug supplier in make-up lip-synchs a Roy Orbison song to the gangsters in his lounge.

7) Dogville – Lars von Trier. This movie set on a black stage with lines painted on it to depict a town, pissed me off for almost the first two-thirds of the film, ‘you cannot do this in a film which by its nature is so dependent on cinematography.’ The bastard won me over in the end though with the outstanding plot/acting. Lars von Trier, one of the few directors who likes to investigate ideas in a film. Often attacking ‘idealism’.

6) Magnolia – Paul Thomas Anderson. 3hrs long, 5 stories interwoven, a sub-text of illusions being shattered so the characters are forced to encounter the underlying pain in their lives. William H Macy stunning as the battered child-star trying to deal with his fractured past. Chris Knox said he came out of this movie, hopped on the bus to go home and just started to cry.

5) Cobra Verde – Werner Herzog. I could probably have chosen any of the Klaus Kinski/Werner Herzog films here, they’re all good in their individual ways, Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, Nosferatu, Woyzech. Cobra Verde has a very cool beginning though with a bare-foot Kinski swaggering into a dusty outback town people fleeing at the sight of him, and the scene where he runs totally crazed through hundreds of topless pole-wielding African women, Kinski at his best.

4) Wild at Heart – David Lynch. Every gesture is overplayed in this film, the mad mother smothering her face in red lipstick, the tripped out voodooists before they execute someone, William Dafoe pissing loudly in the toilet as he tells the girl she should listen to the ‘heavy sound he’s making’. Nicholas Cage wearing a snakeskin jacket which is a ‘symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom’ seriously cool from start to end.

3) Pulp Fiction – Quentin Tarantino. I almost wish I didn’t like Tarantino so much, Pulp Fiction has become a bit of a cliché, problem is, its so damn good. Tarantino is addictive on the big screen, he’s like a warm glow of drugs and alcohol stirred in with great dialogue, as the title says pulp fiction, is his forte, and he’s great at it.

2) New York New York – Martin Scorsese. Funny, all the Scorsese fans I talk to, they never mention this film, its always the gangster ones or Taxi Driver, but to me this is his best film. It has a kind of poetry to it, from the intensity of De Niro’s performance, to the great singing of Liza Minnelli (and I am by no means a fan of the musical style of singing), the dynamics between the characters and the subtlety of the ending when Liza turns around before walking out to rejoin De Niro, this whole movie just works.

1) Bad Boy Bubby – Rolf de Heer. This was my favourite movie for nigh on ten years, so it gets to stay no 1 for sentimental reasons. The lead performance of a guy who’s been locked in a concrete room with his incestual mum for 35yrs without ever having been outside, the Kasper Hauser type of investigation into how human personality functions, the weird epic-like scenes, the sheer plethora of information that Rolf tries to fit in one film, from the intellectually handicapped to parental abuse to ‘Fuck you God!’ to Bubby shedding his old persona ‘Me Pop now’ to sex to outrageous band performances and somehow he manages to keep it all coherent and moving at the same time.

Hoxha's comeback

Albania's long-time Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha makes a comeback in Inside Man, a disappointingly conventional bank robbery flick from Spike Lee. After seizing a bank and taking hostages, the robbers confuse the cops who are bugging them by playing one of Hoxha's speeches from an i pod. Presumably they want to pass themselves off as Albanian gangsters.

Hoxhaism has a curious relationship with this part of the world, through its association with the Communist Party of New Zealand, which in the 1980s declared Albania the only true example of socialism on the planet. I remember reading, as a very politically confused fourteen year-old, the Communist Party's paper, The People's Voice, and encountering headlines like 'No Unemployment in Socialist Albania' and claims that only sixty crimes were committed every year in the whole of the 'socialist fatherland'. (Come to think of it, given the ferocity of the repressive appartus Hoxha commanded and the fear it inspired, that claim perhaps had a grain of truth to it.) The Communist Party attempted to distribute Hoxha's turgid writings to the New Zealand working class, and you can still find copies of the man's works floating around Auckland's secondhand bookstores.

Hoxha died in 1985, and at the end of the decade the Albanian regime began to collapse, as the great man's successor Ramiz Alia attempted to follow the example of the Stalinist rulers in several other Balkan countries and convert himself from a bureaucrat into a capitalist. The Communist Party responded by denouncing Alia and talking of a 'Trotskyite coup' in Albania. The party formally renounced Hoxhaism and changed its name in 1994, leaving a couple of dissident factions to keep fighting the good fight. The first, known as the 'Stalin group' or 'the Veterans', died out quite quickly, but the second has continued a sort of shadowy existence as the Communist Party of Aotearoa. And a sort of 'Hoxhaist International' still exists - it has a rudimentary website here, and seems to be strongest in Latin America, Lord knows why.

According to the film's wiki entry Hugo Chavez has declared himself a fan of Inside Man.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Recognise this (the sculpture, I mean, not the daft tourist)?

Sure you do - it's one of the artfully constructed 'ruins' that has marked the Ponsonby Rd entrance to Myers Park for about a decade now.

It's also unashamedly (well, I don't know the artist - perhaps he is ashamed? Perhaps he - why do I assume a he? - tosses and turns in his bed at night?) ripped off Ian Hamilton Finlay, the artful gardener, pioneering concrete poet, and ruin-builder who died last week in his native Scotland at the age of eighty-one. Here is Finlay's original, which is one of the numerous curious beauties to adorn Little Sparta, the garden he grew and built on the outskirts of Edinburgh:

Finlay began as a relatively conventional poet and short story writer, but achieved renown when he bgen producing concrete poems in the 1960s. The gardening and ruin-building came later. All of the work he produced from the '60s on managed simulataneously to be conceptually innovative and decorative in a somewhat old-fashioned way. His ouevre shows the influence of William Morris' wallpaper, as well as Marcel Duchamp's readymades.

You can read an interview with Finlay here.

The peculiarities of the pro-war 'left'

For certain sections of the British media, twenty people sitting in a London pub is news - that is the conclusion that must be drawn, it seems, from the response to the Euston Manifesto, which appears to be the latest attempt to make the term 'pro-war left' seem like something other than an oxymoron.

I personally think that, these days at least, the pro-war 'left' ought to be of more interest to sociologists and pyschologists who study unusual ideas than to newspapers and bloggers. Reproduced below is a paper on the pro-war 'left' which I gave to the 2004 conference of the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand, and which was republished in the most recent issue of Red and Green, the journal of analysis and theory published (offline, alas) by members of the Alliance Party.


On the 3rd of March 2003, less than three weeks before the invasion of Iraq, the New Statesman published an interview with John Reid, the chairman of the British Labour Party and a Minister without Portfolio in Tony Blair’s government, under the headline ‘Iraq will be a Socialist War’. The talk between Reid and New Statesman political editor John Kampfner was just a skirmish in the vast propaganda war waged by the Blair government in the first months of 2003, as it tried to sell an invasion of Iraq to a sceptical public.

There was a division of labour in this campaign: Blair, his Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other big guns focused on the alleged dangers of Weapons of Mass Destruction, while Reid, a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain with longstanding ties to the trade union movement, or at least the bureaucracy of the union movement, was one of the unfortunates assigned the task of winning over unhappy Labour Party members with the ‘left-wing’, ‘humanitarian’ case for war. Pressed by Kampfner to explain the basis for his support for a war, Reid insisted that:

[I]t’s a thing called socialism…we are socialists because we believe in society and mutual interdependence…it’s long been a tenet of social democracy, of democratic socialism, to view with contempt all forms of fascism.

Reid’s argument raised some readers’ eyebrows. In a letter published on the 17th of March, a bemused Peter Horne of Oldham, Lancashire asked the New Statesman whether “Under John Reid’s new definition of ‘socialism’, recent converts might reasonably include George Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld. I think even Tony Blair could now be persuaded to become a socialist” Horne marvelled.

Reid’s argument was undoubtedly an unpopular one, but it was never his alone. The party chairman was drawing on a set of passionate and nuanced arguments designed by a significant minority of British intellectuals who for months had been determined to justify the coming conflict on left-wing grounds. Reid’s ‘socialist war’ was fought in the columns of Britain’s big newspapers and in cyberspace long before it reached the fields and streets of Iraq.

The ‘pro-war left’, as it came to be known, included high-profile journalists like the Guardian’s David Aaronovitz, the Independent’s Johann Hari, and the New Statesman’s Nick Cohen. Pro-war leftists without such easy access to large audiences have tended to create their own media outlets in the form of weblogs, or blogs as they’re normally known. Populated by names like Socialism in Age of Waiting, A General Theory of Rubbish, Harry’s Place, and Eric the Unread, the ‘pro-war blogosphere’ has provided a fairly continuous stream of commentary on the war and related issues.

Some of the ‘warbloggers’, as they’re sometimes known, belong to ‘traditional’ parts of the British intelligentsia. Norm Geras, for example, is a Professor of Philosophy at Manchester University, a respected Marxologist, and a biographer of Rosa Luxemborg, who runs Normblog in his spare time. But many of the warbloggers as well as the full-time journalists belong to what John Kampfner has called the ‘commentariat’, and are no more familiar with the academy than they are with their local Trades Hall.

The pulling power of the pro-war blogs should not be underestimated. According to its owner, Normblog receives about 9,000 ‘hits’ or visitors every day; Harry’s Place claims to receive over 2,000, and has been regularly cited in the mainstream media. Opponents of the war felt the need to create their own blog, Barry’s Place, to parody the arguments of the pro-war bloggers.

A Very British Cause

If the pro-war left seems strange to us, that’s probably because it is strange. In New Zealand there is not a single newspaper columnist, not a single left-wing politician, not a single academic who has made, in public at least, a comparable case for war in Iraq. Nor has the pro-war left been much of a feature of political debate in other English-speaking nations. Australia boasts a grand total of two pro-war left blogs, and a Labour Party which was distinctly unenthusiastic about the Iraq war. And it is difficult to imagine a member of Bush’s Cabinet, or indeed a Kerry Cabinet, justifying the Iraq adventure as a ‘socialist war’. It is notable that the most famous ‘left-wing’ advocate of the war writing in America is Christopher Hitchens, an expatriate Briton. The pro-war left seems a very British phenomenon.

I’ve been looking at some of the historical references used by Reid and the rest of the pro-war left, in the hope of clarifying a sort of line of descent for this curious phenomenon. I only have time to mention a couple of examples, but I think there’s a tradition, a peculiarly British tradition, to which we can connect the pro-war left.

Marxist imperialism?

A good place to begin is Reid’s claim that ‘Iraq is a socialist war’, a line which must seem to many observers to be even more compromised than the infamous reports of Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction or Iraq’s ties to Osama bin Laden. With its flat tax rate, its breakneck privatisation programme, and its revival of an old Baathist law banning strikes and independent trade unions, George W Bush’s Iraq hardly looks like a socialist paradise. Yet most of the pro-war left continues to support Reid’s ongoing ‘socialist war’. Even more curiously, more than a few of the pro-war blogs have cited Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto in support of their shaky case. Remembered today for its impassioned call for the destruction of capitalism, the Communist Manifesto seems like a particularly odd straw to clutch.

It’s often forgotten, though, that Marx and Engels’ most famous text takes a long time to get to punchlines like ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ and ‘Workers of the World Unite!’. The first and longest section of the Manifesto is largely given over to an account of the bourgeoisie’s role in massively increasing productive forces, destroying feudalism, rescuing populations from the ‘idiocy of rural life’, and dragging ‘even the most barbarous of nations into civilization’.*

To many intellectuals in nineteenth century Britain, the first section of the Manifesto read less like history than prophecy. The first British Marxist organisation of any size and durability, the Social Democratic Federation, was led by a man who can rightly be called a forebear of today’s pro-war left. Described by Eric Hobsbawm as a ‘gentleman, cricketer, and stockbroker leading the masses toward revolution in a top hat and frock-coat’, Henry Hyndman worried the working class rank and file of the SDF by using the Communist Manifesto to make pseudo-Marxist defences of the British Empire, arguing that Britain’s colonies were the ‘just desserts’ of the British working class. Hyndman’s views found an echo amongst the so-called socialist imperialists of the early Fabian Society.

Both the liberal, pseudo-Marxist and Fabian imperialists – we can gather them together under the heading ‘left imperialists’ – developed a vision of progress which assumed a dynamic, developing economic system – capitalism, and imperialism – which required the ‘civilizing’ influence of what we might call a ‘moral agent’, if it were to develop in a progressive manner, and perhaps ultimately be transcended. The less developed a country, the less room for the civilising mission of socialism. The left imperialists wanted to hitch a ride on the runaway locomotive of nineteenth century capitalism. It is not difficult to detect an echo of their project in today’s pro-war left. A month before the invasion of Iraq Harry Steele, the proprietor of Harry’s Place, raised eyebrows with a post called ‘Milton Friedman, Guru of the Left’. Steele suggested that:

Capitalist modes of production are a prerequisite of moving beyond capitalism. That is a point Marx and Engels made in various of their works. I think that point has been forgotten…

Commenting a year later on the programme of the Worker Communist Party, the largest and most active Marxist party in Iraq, Steele insisted that: ‘This programme is ultra-left. It calls for socialism, but capitalism barely exists in Iraq’.

Hyndman was concerned with nineteenth century Africa and Marxist critics of British imperialism like Belfort Bax, but his line of argument was strikingly similar. It is understandable that Steele does not actually invoke the name of Hyndman. Like a generation of socialists with faith in the dynamism of imperialism, Hyndman saw his reputation and career ruined by World War One, or the First Great Inter-Imperialist War, as it is sometimes more accurately called. That war and the revolutions it provoked pulled left imperialism apart, forcing the leaders of the Second International to choose between workers’ internationalism or ‘blood and soil’. Hyndman chose the latter, and parted company with the anti-war majority of the Social Democratic Federation.

1940 and the ‘people’s war’

The pro-war left rarely discusses World War One, but their arguments are full of references to the Second World War. In article after article and on blog after blog Saddam is likened to Hitler, Bush is compared to Churchill, and anti-war protesters are no better than the ‘appeasers’ of fascism in the late 1930s. Eric the Unread has gone so far as to compare anti-war bloggers to Lord Haw Haw, the British Nazi who broadcast wartime propaganda from exile in Germany. For its part, Harry’s Place likened the fall of Baghdad to US troops to the liberation of Paris in 1944. To understand the significance of these analogies, we need to consider the role of an important minority of British intellectuals on the home front of the Second World War.

Left imperialism had been most popular in Britain and Germany, the two most dynamic economies in Europe. In Germany the experience of defeat, economic ruin, and fascism killed the optimistic, reformist ‘Marxism’ of the Second International’s great revisionist, Eduard Bernstein. But British society emerged from the war intact, if somewhat traumatised, and survived the interwar years without major upheaval. Britain’s crisis came in the middle of 1940, when the sudden fall of first Norway then France and the Low Countries left it isolated and threatened with Nazi invasion. The British ruling class that had personified inertia and stuffy backwardness in the Chamberlain years of the late 1930s was forced to call upon the aid of the left and the labour movement. Labour MPs and trade union leaders entered Churchill’s government, and one of the Spanish Civil War’s ‘red generals’, Tom Wintringham, was brought in from the cold to control a Home Guard which had attracted a quarter of a million volunteers in the first forty-eight hours after the fall of France.

It was in 1940 that the discourse of left imperialism made a dramatic reappearance. Wintringham pronounced the Home Guard a ‘people’s army’, and insisted that World War Two had become an extension of the Spanish Civil War. George Orwell agreed with him, in a stream of influential articles and a small but remarkable book called The Lion and Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius. Orwell’s argument was simple: if it were to survive, British civilisation would have to adopt socialistic measures like a degree of central planning and workers’ control. Early in The Lion and the Unicorn Orwell predicted that:

If we hold our nerve, then it may be that in a year’s time the people’s militia will be lodged a the Ritz, flying a red flag – and Churchill may be leading it.

Today’s pro-war left does not believe that the war in Iraq puts socialism on anyone’s agenda, but they believe along with Orwell that it is properly ‘socialist’ practice to subordinate criticism of imperialism to the defeat of ‘fascism’. It is no coincidence that Christopher Hitchens last year published an aggressively possessive study of Orwell, and that a quote from the great man adorns the masthead of Harry’s Place.

Orwell’s view that British capitalism and imperialism had no choice but reform reflected the relative decline of his country in the first half of the twentieth century. This decline was highlighted at the end of the war, when the US forced its by-now junior ally to devalue the pound, launch a new Cold War military build-up and begin dismantling its empire. The post-war Labour government Orwell and others had looked towards to turn the ‘People’s War’ into a transformation of British society found itself holding down wages and social spending to pay for the interest on US loans and the costs of rearmament and the Korean War. The contradiction between imperialism and the hopes of its left-wing apologists was once again exposed. Orwell’s long illness and early death saved him the humiliation Hyndman had experienced.

1956 and the birth of moral imperialism

Another talismanic date for the pro-war left is 1956, the year when the revelation of Stalin’s crimes and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary caused enormous splits in the Communist Parties of the West. In Britain, for instance, the party lost 7,000 of its 21,000 members. A small minority of them went on to form what is nowadays sometimes known as the Old New Left – a loose movement best-known for its role in large Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament demonstrations and for the ‘Third Campist’ opposition of some of its most notable leaders to the foreign policy of both Moscow and Washington.

The pro-war left likes to suggest that 2003 was ‘our 1956’, and that the invasion of Iraq was ‘our Hungary’. In their view, the opposition of the vast majority of the left to the invasion of Iraq is the contemporary equivalent of the acceptance of the Soviet invasion of Hungary by a majority of the old Communist Party. This analogy may be dubious in the extreme, but there is no doubt that 1956 and the short-lived ‘Old New Left’ played an important part in the evolution of the discourse of today’s pro-war left.

By the second half of the ‘50s Britain had become a second-rate power, whose economy lagged behind those of its rivals in Europe and whose empire was being steadily dismantled. Hyndman’s colonialism was no longer acceptable even in the mainstream of the Conservative Party, let alone on the left. The Old New Left was reconciled to, and indeed celebrated, the decline of Britain as an imperialist power. But some of the movement’s key thinkers presented a new vision, of Britain as a moral rather than military or economic superpower. In an influential 1960 essay called ‘Revolution’, EP Thompson speculated that:

Should the protest in Britain gain sufficient strength to force our country out of NATO, consequences would follow in quick succession...People would become aware of the historic choice offered to our country, as they became aware during the Second World War...Of all Western countries, Britain is perhaps the best placed to effect such a transition.

Thompson was exhibiting a nostalgia for Britain’s old place in the world, presented in the form of an appeal for the country to become a moral actor of significance on the world stage. Where the left imperialists had once hoped to exercise a civilizing influence on the British capitalist class, Thompson now saw Britain itself as a civilizing influence on the world. Moral imperialism was to replace economic and military imperialism.

Thompson recognised that leaving NATO would prompt economic retaliation from the United States, but he saw the crisis such retaliation would cause as an opportunity to revive the spirit of 1940, and to argue socialistic measures, if not full-blown socialism, were once again necessary. Others who took up the call for withdrawal from NATO, Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament, and an ethical foreign policy didn’t consider the destabilising consequences of such actions, let alone link them to need for any major reorganisation of British society.

The Old New Left and the CND of the late 50s and early 60s are nowadays regarded as ‘utopian’ because, rejecting the rival power centres of Washington and Moscow, they could point to no ‘objective’ force that could give muscle to their vision of an ethical British foreign policy. Indeed, the New Left would spend much of the 1960s and 70s struggling against the excesses of US imperialism. John Reid himself acknowledged this history, telling the New Statesman that ‘I will bow to no one in my anti-Americanism…they were wrong in Vietnam Nicaragua’.

‘The line has been crossed’

For Reid and for many others on the pro-war left, the events that changed the nature of US imperialism occurred on September the 11th, 2001. The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War had removed some of the reasons for a reactionary American foreign policy, but it would be ten years before a decisive shift in that policy would be achieved. In the words of Harry Steele:

In a post Cold War world...opposition to the US and liberal democracies in general, comes not from leftist or national liberation movements but from essentially fascistic forces. There is a point where the line has been crossed, where what may have been a progressive outlook in a previous era becomes a fundamentally reactionary position. The date that line was crossed was September 11...

Hitchens has also testified to the importance of September the 11th, telling an interviewer that:

I know exactly which side I'm on, and I knew right away. I felt exhilaration on the 11th of September, and I feel slightly ashamed to say that, in view of the fact that so many people lost their lives that day. But when the day was over, and I had been through the gamut of rage and disgust and nausea and so on -- not fear, I will claim for myself. I'm not afraid of people like that. I'm very angered by them. But there was something I hadn't analyzed when I went into myself, and I was pleased to find it was exuberance. I thought, "Okay, right. I'll never get bored with fighting against these people." And their defeat will be absolute, it will be complete.

It is S 11 and its supposed consequence of a ‘turn’ in US foreign policy toward anti-fascism and the promotion of democracy which has prompted the latest stage in the evolution of left imperialism. For the likes of Harry Steele, it is US imperialism which is today’s dynamic behemoth, the engine of world progress, and it is Britain, not merely the British left and working class, which has a vital role as the moral agent that can ensure the behemoth acts for progressive ends, channelling its powers.

In his interview with the New Statesman, John Reid is explicit: the Bush administration ‘started from...classic Republican isolation’, he concedes, but S 11 ‘brought home to them the need to engage with the world’. Tony Blair’s government, on the other hand, has always been guided by its ethical foreign policy, and has helped George W Bush to see the light. Reid links Britain’s supposed role as a moral actor on the stage of history to its post-imperial status, telling the New Statesman that:

The role a country can play is not just a direct consequence of population or has something to do with the character of a country and its government...people think we’re more democratic than most places...they do think our soldiers are better than most and therefore, I suppose, they are in continual demand.

A strange sort of success

There’s no need, I’m sure, for me to recount here the military and political problems that the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq has encountered. Having equated US foreign policy with anti-fascism, the pro-war left has been particularly shaken by the revelation of human rights abuses by the occupiers, and by evidence of widespread Iraqi opposition to the occupation. A number of pro-war leftists have begun to equivocate, and a few have recanted.

Johann Hari aggressively championed the war on Iraq, and in the salad days after the fall of Baghdad urged a follow-up invasion of North Korea. Soon, though, Hari was calling for the end of the occupation of Iraq, citing opinion polls. Interviewing Christopher Hitchens in The Independent on the 23rd of September, Hari was disconcerted to find his old mentor rejecting the label ‘left-wing’ in favour of identification with neoconservatism. Hari ended his interview by urging Hitchens to ‘return to the left’, but it is likely that neo-conservatism, with its simple equation of the interests of US capitalism and the interests of humanity, offers Hitchens a more coherent and rhetorically defensible perspective than that of the pro-war left. Defending Hitchens’ exchange with Hari on his blog, Norm Geras suggested that ‘Today’s left may not be, after all, such a bad thing to disown’. Hari, for his part, has moved closer to the anti-war left since his interview with Hitchens. In an article published in The Independent on the 21st of January, he urged his erstwhile comrades on the pro-war left to ‘wake up’ and ‘face reality’:

Tony Blair and the liberals who thought we could ride neoconservatism to a better world have been duped. It is painful, but we cannot live in a dream world. Nothing would make me happier than if the most powerful state in the world was committed to spreading democracy and toppling vicious governments. It is not; in many places, it is doing precisely the opposite.

The pro-war left seems to be disintegrating as a coherent political tendency, as its former adherents choose between an uncomplicated neo-conservatism and a return to the ‘old’ anti-war left.

Of course, the pro-war left has gained one powerful recruit since the invasion of Iraq. As late as February 2003 Tony Blair had insisted that he would tolerate Saddam’s remaining in power, if only Saddam would dispose of his weapons of mass destruction. With the discrediting of WMD claims, though, Blair has been forced to echo John Reid’s ‘socialist’ case for the war at a Labour Party conference and in several interviews. The pro-war left has seen its rhetoric enjoy an unprecedented circulation at the very time that its arguments seem under fatal pressure. We might almost say that the left imperialist tradition has been thrown another lifeline by the very failure of imperialism to liberate Iraq.

A warning for the ‘pseudo-left’

It is easy to ridicule to the pro-war ‘left’, and no doubt the likes of Christopher Hitchens deserve nothing but ridicule. It is possible to argue, though, that in its very extremity the pro-war ‘left’ shows up an error which is common, in one form or another, to many of the people and organisations that Hitchens dismisses as the ‘pseudo-left’. In invading and occupying Iraq on the flimsiest of pretexts, US imperialism has shown the world its ugliest face. It is not surprising that almost all of the left has united in opposing Bush’s adventure.

At other times, though, the left has been far from united in its attitude towards the actions of the US and other imperial powers. The Balkan Wars of the 1990s and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 split the left, with many groups and individuals supporting some sort of ‘humanitarian’ intervention by the US and/or Europe. The invasion of East Timor in 1999 saw the Kiwi left split between a tiny anti-imperialist camp, and a huge majority prepared to believe that the likes of Bill Clinton and John Howard were acting for ‘progressive ends’.

It would be untrue to say that the Iraq debacle has destroyed all illusions in progressive imperialism. Only months after participating in the invasion of Iraq, the Australian army organised the occupation of the Solomon Islands, in an attempt to speed up the implementation of an IMF ‘reform’ programme which had seen the public sector gutted and effective control of the Ministry of Finance given to Australasian economists. Australia’s recolonisation of the Solomons was urged by the United States, which had been alarmed by French offers of military assistance to the government of the islands. Despite their recent opposition to the invasion of Iraq, large sections of the Australasian left either refused to oppose or actively supported the invasion of the Solomons. The Green Parties of both countries, for instance, applauded the move, with our own Keith Locke calling it ‘long overdue’.

We in New Zealand have our own, homegrown tradition of pro-imperialist leftism to overcome, before we can safely sneer at the absurdities of Hitchens and his British friends.

* Marx would not always hold such a sanguine view of the destruction of pre-capitalist societies. In his Late Marx and the Russian Road (Monthly Review Press, 1983), Teodor Shanin shows that Marx’s careful studies of Russian society, and in particular Russian peasant society, lead him to the belief that economically underdeveloped societies did not necessarily have to become advanced capitalist societies before they could experience socialist revolution.

Echoing the views of some of Russia’s nineteenth century ‘Narodniks’, Marx’s late, unfinished Letter to Vera Zasulich asserted that Russia’s peasant Communes provide a rough model for a socialist society, and could allow the country to leap straight from its nineteenth century mixture of feudalism and underdeveloped capitalism to socialism.

Marx’s optimism about the possibility of revolution in ‘backward’ countries like Russia anticipates Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, which showed that the global economy established by imperialism makes socialist revolution not only possible but necessary in the colonial and semi-colonial world. Trotsky’s ideas were adopted by Lenin and the Bolshevik Party in 1917, but fiercely resisted by Second International leaders like Kautsky and Martov, who argued, like today’s pro-war ‘left’, that socialist revolution was impossible in less developed countries. Determined to deny Marx’s final views on the question, Kautsky and his allies made sure that the Letter to Vera Zasulich was suppressed for decades. By the time the text was finally published in 1924, Stalin was busy promoting his theory of a ‘two-stage revolution’, and ridiculing the idea that nations like China could avoid ‘decades of capitalism’ before socialist revolution became a possibility.

The idea of ‘two stage revolution’ became institutionalised in the left, with disastrous consequences. In Aotearoa, for instance, generations of Marxists have antagonised Maori by telling them that the destruction of their economy and culture was ‘objectively progressive’, because Aotearoa could only become socialist after becoming an advanced industrial nation. In reality, nineteenth century Maori quickly established a ‘Polynesian mode of production’, blending features of capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production to meet Maori needs. Today, the collective ownership of land and collective labour which was a feature of independent Maori states like the Waikato Kingdom and Parihaka endures in residual form in many places, and remains an inspiration for Maori and radical Pakeha alike. Marxists who deny its importance are condemned to irrelevance.

For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see Owen Gager’s ‘Towards a Socialist Polynesia’. Marx’s letter to Vera Zasulich can be read here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Unfortunate acronyms

Reading about left-wing politics sometimes seems a little like eating alphabet soup. As parties are formed and splinter, and splinters fuse to create new combinations, names get more and more complicated, and acronyms get longer. Now and then an acronym can become a PR disaster - just ask the Socialist Party of England and Wales, or this group which formed recently in the Indian state of Kerala.

Compulsory holidays

The latest issue of the Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain - Provisional Central Committee (phew! can't they get a shorter name?) gives the lowdown on last week's election in Italy, focusing on the shenanigans of the insufferable Silvio Berlusconi and his even more insufferable far-right political allies. The Weekly Worker's article notes the Berlusconi campaign's unashamed invocation of the legacy of Benito Mussolini:

The actual election campaign itself was characterised by increasingly crazed, desperate and inflammatory comments from Berlusconi and his far rightist coalition partners. So, the ever charming Alessandra Mussolini - granddaughter of Benito and leader of Social Alternative (Alternativa Sociale) - came out with the ditty, “Better fascist than queer”. Similarly, in a base bid to whip up bigotry, Umberto Bossi - insufferable boss of the ultra-nationalist and separatist Northern League - said that those from the Union “smell of Vaseline”, a derogatory reference to the fact the coalition fielded a relatively large number of gay and transvestite candidates.

Then there was the silver-tongue of Berlusconi - no mean hand at insults himself. Apart from regularly - and perhaps unwisely given his catholic constituency - comparing himself to Jesus and Napoleon, Berlusconi came out with a series of pro-Mussolini remarks.

Thus, on one occasion he offered the viewpoint that Benito Mussolini “had been the greatest statesman in Italian history” - and followed this up with the observation Mussolini’s fascist regime “hadn’t killed a single person”, it “just used to send opponents on holiday”.

It's about time Berlusconi was sent on holiday. Read the whole article here.